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Mathematics Specialists: Describing an
Application of a Motivational Model Called MUSIC

Dr. Jean Mistele and Dr. Betti Kreye

Mathematics specialists are teacher-leaders in schools and school districts. In this role, the mathematics specialists must work collaboratively with their colleagues and the administration to lead projects that promote students’ mathematics understanding. The shift from a classroom teacher to a teacher-leader requires new skills in order to create an effective learning community. We noted many in-service teachers felt apprehension as they shifted into their new role as a teacher-leader. In particular, as a leader, they were apprehensive about their ability to motivate their colleagues for their school-wide or grade-level project. In our mathematics specialist program we attempted to address their concern by introducing them to the MUSIC Model of academic motivation (Jones, 2009). This model was designed to address undergraduate college students’ psychological needs within an academic environment (Jones, 2009), in particular, their psychological needs associated with a student and a professor relationship. We modified the motivation model for a new relationship, teacher and teacher-leaders, specifically, between mathematics specialists and their colleagues. As leaders, the mathematics specialists need to be able to engage and motivate others in order to enhance student mathematical learning in their school.

In this article we share some background information about our Mathematics Specialist program. We also explain the academic motivation MUSIC Model (Jones, 2009) and how we modified this model to support the teachers as they moved into their new roles as mathematics specialists. Finally, we share part of our pilot research results from some of the participants in one of the cohorts of teachers that used the MUSIC Model as they planned and implemented their capstone projects.

This Mathematics Specialist Program is designed for inservice K-8 teachers. At Virginia Tech the program has been operating for nine years with three cohorts of teachers participating. The program requires 33 hours of course work that leads to either a masters in mathematics education degree (M.A. Ed.) or an Education Specialist degree (Ed. S.). Within this program, there are five mathematics content courses, a mathematics assessment course, an advanced curriculum and instruction course, two leadership courses (Leadership I and Leadership II), and  a year-long Externship course. The Externship course was informed by the Principal training paradigm that includes a capstone project (Kreye, 2009).

It was during the Leadership I course that the MUSIC Model was first introduced to one cohort of teachers. The MUSIC Model was implemented when the teachers designed and implemented their capstone projects. Teachers first used the model during the design stage when they conducted a school-wide mathematical needs assessment, which included all stakeholders (teachers and administration). At the end of the needs assessment, the stakeholders identified the top mathematics needs in their school. For example, the stakeholders may have identified that the vertical alignment for a particular mathematical concept was incomplete or the spacing in the sequence failed to meet student needs. As a result of these findings in the needs assessment, the teachers might research the topic and determine an approach through which to address this need before enlisting their colleagues in the project design phase and the implementation phase (Kreye, 2009; Author & Wilkins, 2010).

We decided to use the MUSIC Model of motivation based on the feedback we received from the teachers in the earlier cohorts. Many of these teachers were hesitant to work with their colleagues in a leadership role. They lacked the confidence and/or skills necessary to effectively motivate and collaborate with their colleagues in a leadership role for their capstone project. We heard from the younger teachers that said they were hesitant to engage with the more experienced teachers because they believed they lacked the credentials to offer new teaching practices to the veteran teachers. We heard from the veteran teachers that they were hesitant to critique new teachers because they were concerned that they would appear overbearing or overly critical. We witnessed some teachers so reluctant to work with the entire faculty that they created projects in which they only worked closely with their friends. We decided that we needed to offer our teachers targeted skills to lead and work confidently with all of their peers in order to foster an effective learning community that would address the critical needs in their schools.

We were familiar with the recently developed MUSIC Model of motivation because we are acquainted with the developer, Dr. Brett Jones, who is an educational psychology professor.  

He designed the model so that it included the elements required to foster academic motivation among students and he tested his model within the university setting using undergraduates and their professors (Jones, 2009). The MUSIC model is based on a social-cognitive theoretical framework targeting academic identity in which students have psychological needs and when these needs are met, the students’ perceptions and beliefs about their ability to perform academically are positively impacted (Jones, 2009). Motivation is such a broad topic, and Jones (2009) reduced its complexity, while including the characteristics of motivation into five constructs. The classroom teacher would use these components to help their students attain the goals in their classroom by meeting the students’ academic psychological needs. We adapted this model for the mathematics specialists because we believed the model would be useful when our teachers began to tackle their capstone projects.  As a research goal, we wanted to know which of the MUSIC model components may have helped the mathematics specialists the most as they prepared and executed their capstone project.

The word MUSIC is an acronym for the five critical components needed to promote academic motivation: eMpowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring (Jones, 2009). In the following paragraphs we define and describe each of the components. Then we describe how each may appear when used by a classroom teacher and then by a teacher-leader, the mathematics specialist.

The first component in the MUSIC Model is eMpowerment (M). This addresses the amount of perceived control or autonomy that students need to have over their learning in order to be motivated. For example, in the classroom, the teacher may offer a menu of project assignments from which the students may choose. This gives the student some control over their learning. As a teacher-leader, the mathematics specialist may apply the eMpowerment component of the model at the beginning of their project by engaging all of the stakeholders in the needs assessment phase of the project. If all of the mathematics specialists’ colleagues have a voice in choosing the most pressing need in their school, then they will more likely be engaged and motivated when the project goes into its design and implementation phases.

The second component in the MUSIC Model is Usefulness (U). In the classroom, it answers the student question, “When will I ever use this?” The classroom teacher may connect a mathematical concept to a real world situation. For example, the teacher can have students design a wheel chair ramp using the Pythagorean Theorem. As a teacher-leader the mathematics specialist may help teachers see the usefulness of the project because it ties directly back to the needs assessment. For example, if teachers in a school feel that their students struggle to recall and apply multiplication facts, then addressing this problem  may be identified as the most critical mathematics need within the school. The third grade teachers may be motivated to participate in professional development to identify strategies to strengthen students’ recall and application of multiplication facts because this would directly impact and support their students.

M: eMpowerment: How much control do       students have over their learning environment?

U: Usefulness: Can this concept be used in     real-world situations?

S: Success: How successful is the student? 

I: Interest: What are the situational and 
    individual interests of the students?

C: Caring : How can the teacher best care     about   his or her students, on both a personal  and     classroom level?

Additionally, teachers in the upper grade levels may see the project’s usefulness because it may reduce the need for continued re-teaching of prior content standards.

The third component of the MUSIC Model is Success (S). In the classroom, the focus is on the student’s success in a course. If the course objectives are well defined and they appear attainable, with effort, the student may be moved to put forth that effort in order to be successful.

For example, if the teacher provides a rubric for the assessment of an assignment, then the students may feel that success on the assignment is attainable when putting forth the necessary effort. As a teacher-leader, the notion of success for the mathematics specialists’ colleagues is similar. If the project has well-defined and clearly stated expectations that are attainable, then their colleagues may be motivated to support the project and take the necessary actions to ensure the project is a success.

The fourth component of the MUSIC Model is Interest (I). There are two kinds of interest: situational and individual. Situational interest is short term, lasting for the duration of the course or class.

Individual interest is longer term, in which students seek additional opportunities to interact with the topic outside of the classroom setting. In the classroom, the teacher may ask students about their areas of interest and then use them as scenarios when creating mathematical problems throughout the year.
As a teacher-leader, the mathematics specialist, like a teacher, may focus on situational and/or long term interest when leading their project. How this is done varies based on the specific project and individuals participating. If the mathematics specialists design multiple opportunities for engagement throughout their capstone project, this allows teachers to select areas of participation based on their interest. For example, if the school project was designed to provide additional tutoring for students preparing for the SOL tests, then some teachers may be interested in working with small groups before school, while others may prefer one-on-one tutoring after school.

The last component in the MUSIC Model is Caring (C), which also has two levels, at the classroom level and on a personal level. The teacher demonstrates caring on the classroom level by providing additional help for struggling students. On the personal level, this is demonstrated when the teacher takes time to learn about their students’ lives outside of the classroom. As a teacher-leader, the mathematics specialist may demonstrate caring, on a group level, by keeping his or her colleagues up to date on the progress of the project. The mathematics specialist may also show caring by addressing project issues in a timely, positive, and professional manner. The mathematics specialist may demonstrate caring, on a personal level, by accommodating their colleagues when unforeseen circumstances arise. For example, an illness in the family that requires a modification in that person’s task or schedule. 

These five components are a framework for academic motivation that was originally developed for the classroom teacher at the collegiate level. We believed the framework can be modified to support a teacher-leader, specifically, the mathematics specialist.

Therefore, we designed a lesson for the Mathematics Specialists using the MUSIC Model in order to give them the skills to work collaboratively with their colleagues. The lesson opened with a discussion of the model components. We included hands-on activities in which the teachers identified the MUSIC Model components they found in reading selected NCTM journal articles. The teachers also identified the MUSIC Model components in selected mathematics coaching videos (West & Staub, 2003). The teachers engaged in extensive discussions about the model components, how the components may unfold in their new teacher-leader roles, and how the components are strongly interrelated. 

After presenting the MUSIC Model lesson and during the first interview, all 14 of the mathematics specialists in the cohort were grateful to have learned about the model. Many expressed greater confidence in being able to effectively reach out to their colleagues as they planned and implemented their capstone projects. In the following paragraphs we share the experiences from five mathematics specialists. These five were chosen because their projects were either at the grade-level, school-level or district level so there was collaboration with their colleagues. The other mathematics specialists had individual projects that were provided to them from their principal, or their project was behind schedule at the time of the second interview, or they were unavailable for the interview. The responses from the second interview occurred six months after we presented the MUSIC Model lesson and they reflect their experiences as they approached the end of their project. We have included excerpts through which the mathematics specialists identified the components they believed were the most beneficial as they undertook their capstone projects.

Jamie believed eMpowerment and Caring were the two components that were the most useful when she led her capstone project. She believed these two components were critical for her to gain acceptance as a teacher-leader with her colleagues. She said, “I feel like you get in [her emphasis] with these two components.” Jamie had an open dialogue with her colleagues to identify the most pressing need in her school. She felt she demonstrated eMpowerment by leaving the choice of the most pressing need to her colleagues. She felt she demonstrated Caring by actively showing her colleagues that she was learning from them and to show them that this was not another top-down project but their own to develop. 

Patricia focused on the Usefulness component since her project was implemented in a school that was under warning. Through the needs assessment it was determined that the teachers recognized the need to learn how to create cognitively demanding tasks. In turn, they believed using such tasks would help students increase their standardized test scores. In response, Patricia developed professional development sessions for all of the district’s math teachers through which they could enhance their understanding about developing and implementing high cognitive demand tasks in their classrooms. The teachers working together practiced writing high cognitive demand tasks, implemented the tasks in their own classroom, and then reviewed them with each other. 

Patricia remarked: “I have looked at the Usefulness because that is the whole point of this [professional development] so they [the teachers] can create something [worthwhile] because they have to take it back to their classrooms.” The tasks the teachers created during the professional development were used with their own students in order to develop their students’ deeper mathematical understanding, which in turn, would translate into higher achievement scores.  
Ali is a young teacher. She was reluctant to work with her colleagues because she was concerned that her lack of teaching experience undermined her credentials to offer new or different teaching strategies to her more experienced colleagues. As a result, she found all of the components in the MUSIC Model useful. Ali was grateful that she had learned skills that helped her to engage with her more experienced colleagues. She said, “I really don’t think I could have worked with adults without any of it.” The MUSIC Model helped her focus her attention on motivating her colleagues throughout the implementation of the project rather than focusing on her limited teaching experience.

Finally, Rachel claimed that she focused on the eMpowerment component. She believed that empowering her colleagues, who were also her friends, would deepen their engagement and lead to increased student achievement. Rachel said, “I think for me, working with them [her colleagues], the empowerment factor has been there because three brains are better than one and we’re all striving for the same goal for our students to be successful and we want to facilitate that the best way that we can.”

Rachel believed her prior friendship with her grade level colleagues brought empowerment to the forefront. She suggested that empowerment has a magnifying effect, when more people feel empowered, then greater outcomes could be expected.

Since Rachel’s project was designed to meet the needs of her grade level, she believed her prior friendship with her colleagues brought eMpowerment to the forefront.  From our pilot research project with the Mathematics Specialists, we found that all of them felt that the MUSIC model was beneficial as they moved into a teacher-leader role. Many of the mathematics specialists identified eMpowerment, Caring, and Usefulness as the most important components when they implemented their projects.

Although, one teacher believed all of the components were beneficial. The eMpowerment component was used as a way to engage all of their stakeholders at the beginning of the project they were identifying their schools’ most pressing needs. Some of the mathematics specialists combined eMpowerment with Interest or with Caring when introducing, designing, or implementing their projects. We also observed that some of these mathematics specialists used only a few of the components while others shifted their focus on different components of the model during the life cycle of their projects. Others tailored their use of the components for different colleagues engaged in their project. We found that the MUSIC Model was an effective tool that helped, in particular, these five mathematics specialists successfully lead their capstone projects. Ali summed it up when she emphasized how important it is to know how to work with adults and she felt that the MUSIC Model provided her with the tools to work collaboratively and effectively as a teacher-leader with her colleagues and with the administration.


Jones, B. D. (2009). Motivating students to engage in learning: The MUSIC model of academic motivation, International Journal of Teaching and Leaning in Higher Education, 21(2), 272-285.

Kreye, B. C. (2009). Evaluation of the externship within a master’s degree program formathematics specialists at VT (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.VT.edu/theses/available/etd-04102009-162951/, 42.

Kreye, B. C. & Wilkins, J. L. M. (2010). Providing real-world experiences: the Virginia Tech externship for mathematics specialists, Journal of Mathematics and Science, 12, 119-130.

West, L. & Staub, F. C. (2003). Content-Focused Coaching: Transforming Mathematics Lessons, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Dr. Jean  Mistele
Assistant Professor
Radford University jmistele@radford.edu

Dr. Betti Kreye
Associate Professor
Virginia Tech


Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics
PO Box 73593
Richmond, VA 23235

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